For those of you that aren’t familiar, Nick Black is a beloved local artist that has been playing music around Memphis since his teenage years. And like so many musicians, the pandemic and subsequent quarantine hit him hard. Canceled tour dates and not being able to assemble his band or connect with audiences took a toll on him. But it was during this dark time that he started experimenting with innovative ways to reconnect with his fans and do what he’s most passionate about: play music. We caught up with Black to get the skinny on his pandemic programming, life without tour dates, and what the future looks like for musicians. Read on to learn more.
Making a music career
Black has been a professional musician since his teenage years. Like many Memphis musicians, he grew up singing and playing music in the church, starting first with the piano, then the guitar, and experimenting with many different styles of music. This provided the foundation for a fruitful music career, and Black began touring right out of college, winning a couple of Blues Music Awards. While he was touring with other artists, he also had his own band and was playing shows, and eventually the time came to take everything he had learned and really apply it to his own vision and band. “It was a major emotional small business,” he says of the experience. In 2017, Black and his band started going on the road like many musicians have done before him, making trips to New York, Florida, and more. Early in 2020, Black and his band took a trip to LA to play at Springboard Festival in San Diego, where he made invaluable connections in the music industry that would open new doors for him. “At Springboard Ruth McCartney was in the audience, and she became extended family, introducing us to all sorts of people.” Black will be working on a new album shortly, and he’s been releasing singles over the past year and a half, the biggest one being “Grenadine.” Most recently, he released “IRL,” the message of which encouraged fans to put down their phones and every each other in real life – an appropriate call to action for the times we live in.
Life in the pandemic: Cooking and Crooning
To Black, the biggest thing the music industry does is bringing people together under a common cause to dance, laugh, and cry. The purpose of the industry crashed because of the virus and quarantine. And, of course, for many musicians, it decimated the bottom line – gathering crowds for shows, selling merch, getting exposure to new fans, and so on. Amid these strange new circumstances, Black had to figure out ways to get innovative and connect with fans in a digital way. “Initially, doing Facebook and Instagram Lives was sort of the main way to not only connect with fans, but to satiate the need to perform,” Black notes of his experience. “Once you have that bug to perform and realize it’s what you love, it never goes away. This quarantine has been a huge source of anxiety and depression for some people because their outlet and purpose is to perform live.” Because so many people – both musicians and others – were doing Facebook and Instagram Lives, the market became saturated and the audience and receivers of that effort began to shut off because they were overwhelmed. As a result, Black had to come up with a clever way to get to people, and thus, Cooking and Crooning was born (click here to watch!) “The idea was actually my wife, Lena’s,” he says. “The idea was she’ll cook dinner while I play songs in between and we’ll call it Cooking and Crooning.” This ended up being something that got the most attention because it was different. Lena would cook vegetarian meals, Nick would play songs in between, and through this process, he picked up a lot of new technical skills and equipment. For many, Cooking and Crooning became a highlight and source of entertainment during the pandemic.
The 30-day Twitch Challenge
ICYMI, Twitch is a live streaming platform, mostly for gamers but also for other interests, where users can watch and chat with millions of other fans from around the world. For Black, Questlove was the reason he started watching Twitch in the first place. He realized people were on Twitch playing video games and that it was another social platform with no connection to Instagram and Facebook. This provided a lightbulb moment, the idea being that he could start over, start fresh, and do whatever he wanted to do. “I was watching people play to groups of 5 people and others for 5,000 people, and some were paying for a subscription to watch,” Black says of Twitch. “As a business person and someone who loves branding, I had to ask myself what is it that they’re doing that’s so attractive to people?” Black began working to grow on Twitch in an organic way, and out of a need for assembling his band in a safe way. So, the idea was that he would reach out to other musicians around the country (or outside the country) and ask for samples (keyboard sample, bass sample, etc.), and he ended up getting samples from everywhere. Initially, he got around 30-40 samples from people and was able to perform in front of people and answer the chat message and be entertaining over a 4-5 hour broadcast on Twitch. “Sitting in a room making music is one thing, but having the pressure of a live audience – there’s nothing like it. It’s a totally different approach that puts that pressure on me, but I love having that pressure.” Suffice to say, Black has been successful on Twitch, gaining affiliate status in 25 days, amassing followers, and making friends from all over.
What does the future hold for musicians?
Right now, we are all living day to day, and that in itself creates a new way of approaching what we do. For musicians who have brands and employees, they have to be thinking long-term on a daily basis. “You’re constantly focused on the micro and macro. Now that’s not possible because we just don’t know when we’ll be able to tour again,” he says of what the future holds for musicians. “We all have our vision boards and dreams about what we want to accomplish, but you can’t just sit and wonder what’s going to happen. This is a worldwide pandemic, so it’s completely dependent on the actions of other people who feel that they’re not being affected by this.”